Week 11: Interview – Agnes Santiano

I conducted two interviews, one of them is excerpted below. Initially I felt so nervous, so I watched Ted talks about conducting interviews. From that I approached both interviews with curiosity, interest, and silence, and after both interviews, I felt re-energized and inspired.

I conducted my first interview with Chelsea, excerpted below. Chelsea is currently organizing Roots Festival in Shanghai. The interview excerpt below answers the question of why she’s organizing Roots in the first place. We met through a mutual friend, and since she was just a little older than I, I approached the interview more informally with the hopes of making a new friend. We recorded in the evening at Hunter&Gatherer, and I chose not to remove the background music and noise to add to the casual feeling of the interview. At the suggestion of one of the IMA fellows, I also “raised the mids” so that the background clatter and bustle wouldn’t overpower Chelsea’s words. I didn’t manipulate the recording too much since I felt the shotgun mic did most of the work for me. After I finished the interview, I felt like I came out with an older sister. Chelsea spoke with wisdom beyond her years and with so much conviction and purpose. I hope that you feel as inspired as I do listening to her words.

I did not include the second interview for purposes of time. It was more formal and conducted with a Shanghai-based doctor named Dr. Kuan whom I had met at a graduate school panel. With forty years of pediatrics under her belt, she had a lot of advice to share with premed students like myself. Unfortunately, the cafe I was recording in became quite loud after she had begun to felt comfortable talking with me, so I didn’t want to relocate. In the end, the audio had quite a loud background.

Week 9: Fieldnotes – Agnes Santiano

Saturday 11/4 10:45 am Anken Rooftop Garden

My roommate and I arrive at Hanzhong Road Station at 10:35 am. I was supposed to be at the garden five minutes ago. I find a Mobike, a local share bike that is common for locals to use. In a narrow street bordering a bridge, my roommate and I speed to keep ahead of the large and loud truck, the sound of its wheels echoing off the plastered walls on our right and the concrete bridge’s legs on our left. My bike’s rickety and well-used frame gets me up to the bridge when the chain finally gives out. The spindles sound free as the loose chain rattles like the ghost of Mobike’s past. My banged up metal bell fails to alert my roommate who has already turned onto the bridge. I move aside to let the truck pass, park the bike, and lock it. BEEP BEEP. Luckily, across the street are a row of Mobikes, all plastered with various advertisement stickers, and in varying degrees of hard use. I pass the line of ofo bikes, none of them rideable. The first Mobike I try to scan is no good. The QR code is scratched out, as if someone burnt the plastic with a cigarette. I check the QR code on the back; it’s all blacked out with a sticker or perhaps a marker of sorts. Finally I get back onto the bridge where my roommate waits for me. We bike uphill, scooters whirring and whizzing past us as we pass chatting pairs and strolling civilians. Interestingly, the paved bridge appears like a road in width and in asphalt material, yet no cars drive on it, only pedestrians and bikers use the path. On the bridge, we hear and smell the construction before we even see it. I block out the smell of dust and gasoline by holding my breath as we pass by the construction of an office building, surrounded by older looking structures. Below the bridge flows a small river or canal. We reach the end of the bridge and then finally the tall office building which stands below the garden.

Inside a large elevator, we rise to the sixth floor, after which we climb stairs to finally reach the roof. We are greeted by 10 rows of various vegetables and herbs and three other volunteers. Today we’re weeding the newly planted patches and planting mustard and kale. Seeing the expanse of green, it’s easy to forget that we’re standing on top of an office building surrounded by neatly arranged rows of dirt, but every time my shovel hits netting and hard tile, I’m reminded that we’re planting on a roof. Then I look up and see the taller buildings surrounded ours. My ears wake up and hear the traffic below. While there is biodiversity in the garden, there is nowhere near the amount of acoustic diversity. I find grasshoppers, earthworms, and snail shells, but I hear no birds, no insects, and certainly no snail operas, only faint zooming from the road below. Though we were removed from the busy area around the metro station, we were still in the city. Realizing the absence of natural sound for the first time, I realized why the illusion of the rooftop garden never quite felt complete. The man-made garden we had on the roof lacked the spark and sounds of a garden placed in nature.

Sunday 11/5 5:15 pm Lujiazui Huayuan

Looking at a map and walking through, I can see the apartment complex is arranged in such a way to minimize noise pollution in the central plaza. Shrubs hug the gates of the community as the first defense to the sounds of traffic. Around each tower, trees and shrubs act as the second defense, especially for those who live on the first floor. However, the focus is not on the towers but on the main plaza. Instead of trees, the buildings are used to disperse the sound from the surrounding main road. They encircle the plaza that sits centrally in the middle of the complex. The path to the plaza is not only lined with trees but also houses two rows of ten sturdy concrete lamps wider enough for me to hide behind. To enter the plaza, one descends a wide staircase on either the north or the south side. Each staircase is split in the middle by a fountain which takes up about a third of the width. During the day, the fountain provides white noise that further blocks out noise pollution. It is because of this particular construction that the neighbors in the apartment complex can enjoy such a relaxing Sunday evening outside. It is also this same design that gives neighbors a sense of community.

Outside the doors of my tower, neighbors greet each other and spend their lazy Sunday afternoon relaxing. I strain to hear the sounds of traffic. Sure enough, I can still hear a large struck and its every deceleration and acceleration. On my sound level app, the average rests at a comfortable 55 decibels, comparable to a quiet office or moderate rainfall. The quiet is punctuated by the shouts of children making the most of their last few hours of free time. A boy around ten wearing a gray- and blue- colored light coat plays badminton with his father. The tall, stiff man shows prowess in badminton, as he doesn’t move very much. On the other hand, the energetic child lunges forward and leans backward to hit the shuttlecock, missing almost every time. Although, he is not to be discouraged. Each attempt is punctuated by a “Hah!” or a “Bleh!” as he comes closer to becoming super saiyan. Behind me I hear the door to a neighboring tower open. Two grannies come out chatting. Badminton boy is scolded by his granny in a concerned tone. She adjusts his coat to keep out the cold in true granny fashion. They leave together and it becomes quiet again.

Sunday 11/5 6:15 pm Shanghai Metro Line 7

Stepping from the platform to the train, my ears are met with the sounds of an action video playing out loud. As I make my way to a seat, I hear the noise signaling the doors closing. For the first time I realize that there are at least two different kinds of sound signals for the closing doors. The first consists of four regularly spaced, monotonic, high-pitched beeps. The second, which I noticed for the first time, consists of four regularly spaced sets of two consecutive beeps the first one high and the second one lower. The first one sounds more insistent and invasive of my sound space. The second one is a bit more like a gentle prod to move out of the doorway. After a while, my attention returned to the action video sounds. At its source, I found a middle school-aged boy watching an iPad and reacting quietly to the video. He’s intent on the video, not noticing his sleeping guardian or the smaller boy looking over his shoulder to watch the video. I see another sleepy passenger wearing earphones trying to find the source as well. He surveys his surroundings before going back to sleep. Looking around, I counted seven other commuters wearing earphones, taking control of their own sound spaces. In front of me, a pair of young women with matching shoes, pants, and lipsticks are chatting away like good friends. After I had pulled out my notebook together with my noise-measuring app, they started talking more quietly, covering their mouths when talking. Perhaps they are being mindful of the volume or of their privacy. Similarly the grandpa to my right speaks more quietly to his companion next to him after briefly observing my scribbling. I return to my noise level app. Unexpectedly, the loudest noises come from the train accelerating and turning as it travels between stations, reaching the upper 90’s decibel range comparable to a food blender or a motorcycle according to the app. Though the space is more dynamic when people are entering and disembarking, the sound at this point has a comparatively lower decibel level, averaging in the lower 80’s decibel range comparable to loud singing or being inside a car. The noise levels of non-salient background droning sounds are indeed surprising. It is no wonder that transportation is attributed so often for creating noise pollution.

Link to Final Project Presentation 1 here.

Week 7: Final Project Proposal – Agnes Santiano

Watching the video of People’s Park, I began to think about the accessibility of sounds and spaces. While the video, perhaps unintentionally, explored the spaces accessible to people who use wheelchairs, I wanted to explore the sounds accessible to people of different classes. In the reading about deep listening titled “Introduction into Sound… Once More with Feeling,” Bull links noise pollution and entitlement to private space. Class-based and culturally influenced, this entitlement directly links to a “sensitivity to the urban auditory.”  Although his claims were mostly Europe-focused, I wanted to determine whether his claims held true in Shanghai. With a growing middle class and the wealth disparity in large cities like Shanghai, class-based noise pollution is certainly an important discussion to have. Various readings have discussed urban noise pollution, droning sounds, and taking control of the sounds in our surroundings. I wonder what are the sounds we hold in common and what are the sound spaces not everyone can afford?

To fully realize this vision I have, I would have a map showing the different areas occupied by people of different income levels. Unable to find such a resource, I turned to recording different categories of spaces, and recording based on different kinds of questions: What would I have to pay to frequent these spaces? What noise pollution/urban sounds can I hear within those spaces? Who occupies the space? Categories might include transportation, public space, food, and commerce.

  • transportation: metro, taxi, train classes
  • common space: public parks, apartment complex, IFC residence
  • food: street food, local restaurants, foreign restaurants
  • commerce: open market, local supermarket, Carrefour, malls

In terms of product, I only know how to write a paper at this point. I have considered an interactive setup. In such a setup, the user is presented three levels of income. Then upon choosing a level, they would be presented with the categories listed above. Selecting one of these categories starts the respective audio file containing a soundscape of the experience.

Another way to approach this idea is through recording based on degrees of urbanization (rural area vs. Lujiazui vs. French Concession). This way I could also explore Feld’s comparisons between urbanized and rural areas.

Other less developed ideas I have are the concept of “have you eaten?” and the marriage market in People’s Square. Both ideas are tied to certain values in Chinese culture and would make for an interesting project.

Week 6 – Soundscape: “Dancing in Yuanshen” – Agnes Santiano

The Idea:

On my way home from campus, I was inspired by the sounds of Yuanshen Stadium (源深体育中心体育场) – basketballs hitting the metal fence and swooshing through the hoops, kids getting picked up by their grandparents, and every kind of plaza dancing music you could imagine. Being such a large space and including so many sports and activities, Yuanshen Stadium’s music was certainly a challenge to compress into a cohesive 3-minute sound file. At first, I grouped sounds from different activities in the stadium then planned to transition between each one with the sound of bike riding, like a soundscape of biking through the stadium. Yet, it was impossible to separate each activity cleanly from the others. The plaza dancing always included shouting children, and the exercise machines sounds bled into those of the plaza dancing. I asked myself, why should I separate the sounds if they do not naturally exist in isolation? After all, this is a soundscape. There should be overlap in sound. Listening to excerpts from Feld’s “Voices of the Rainforest,” I was inspired by his focus on activity and time for each piece. I decided to focus on the actions of one individual and include surrounding sounds that often occur around that time. No painting of scenery can encompass all aspects and feelings associated with the space. Likewise, my soundscape will capture a snapshot of some of the sounds of Yuanshen Stadium.

The Soundscape:

Yuanshen Stadium, 7pm. In an expansive tiled plaza, there is a grassy area with squeaky outdoor exercise machines with pulley mechanisms, rotating discs, and elliptical machines. The exercise area blends into the playground with swings and monkey bars. One energetic granny has propped up an iPad on a bench with dancing videos to follow along to. Friend and stranger alike join to learn or to help as she follows the choreography to different songs. In the background, children play and people exercise.

The Process:

As a first-time sound editor, I thought that the hardest part would be the editing, which in a way, it was, but that was only because I had not been brave enough with my recordings. I had been warned in class and in workshop to get good recordings by going up close to the subject, minding input levels, and using headphones. It’s certainly a skill to not only know how to use the equipment but also to know how to approach a subject without feeling shy or awkward. I learned exactly how important these tools were during sound editing while trying to reduce noise and maintain consistent volumes. Another difficult hurdle was that of choice. In editing and producing, everything is considered intentional and significant – the order, the layering, the volume. There are so many ways to combine and present all the different sounds I recorded, I hope that the choices I made present a lighthearted and energetic soundscape of but one slice of Yuanshen Stadium.

Week 4: Soundscapes Agnes Santiano

Date: 4 October 2018

Time: 8:00 pm

Location: Yuanshen Stadium

I chose Yuanshen Stadium since it’s on the way during my daily commute to and from campus. I became interested in how different the sounds in the morning were compared to those at night. During the holiday, I passed by some workers cleaning the mats or fixing a tall lamp post. I was hoping to incorporate these behind-the-scenes sounds either in the end or the beginning of my soundscape, but as my recordings continued, it became more focused on the night sounds, such as the sounds of kids being picked up from daycare, basketball, and plaza dancing. I thought about it further, and I thought it would be interesting to capture activity and exercise across all ages.

Follow this link to find my recordings.

Week 3: Sound Scavenger Hunt – Agnes Santiano (& Xinye Jiang)

When Xinye and I pulled out the word “wave,” we were first amused at the word, wondering where we’ll go to find the ocean. I became more interested after reading about the wave effect in Jean François Augoyard’s  and Henri Torgue’s “Guide to Sonic Effects” from their book Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds. My experience in science classes had primed me to expect a passage on the physics of sound waves, but what I had found was so much more interesting. They likened different kinds of sounds to the shape of a wave, yet all sounds are also waves. The way that the authors described the sequence of the sounds in a wave effect, “crescendo, maximal point, fast or progressive rupture of the sound, and decrescendo,” I could visualize the waveform I’ve seen in so many physics classes. They’re cyclical, rhythmic, and consistent.

In choosing what sounds to record, we found a few that were mentioned in the text, such as water, wind, and traffic, but we wanted to take it a step further. With the visual of the wave still in mind from the shape of the sound wave and the sequence of the wave effect, I tried to picture waves of people in Shanghai. One of the most obvious movements of people were in elevators and convenience stores. Much like vehicular traffic, elevators also have elevator traffic during mornings and mealtimes. In elevators, there’s a natural rhythm of the ding, the opening and closing of the doors, the movement of people, and the rise or fall. In convenience stores, while the frequency may not be so consistent, there’s a rhythm in the opening of the doors, the welcoming tune, and the following welcome from the cashier. From this assignment, I’ve become more aware of the rhythms and cycles of the wave effects in my everyday life.

The audio file is embedded below, and a link to the Google Drive file can also be found here. The link to our presentation can also be found here.